My Barth "Shop Guitar"
When people look at my favorite guitar, they usually look again because it seems familiar. That's because it was designed to a large extent by Paul Barth, a major player in early electric guitar development, and a designer of instruments like the Rickenbacker Capri, which John Lennon made famous. It's that Capri design that Barth took with him when he left Rickenbacker in 1957 and opened up his own shop and contracted with the Natural Music Guild of Santa Ana, CA, for distribution of his guitars. These models bear a "Barth Natural Music Guild" label on their headstocks.
Not long after, Barth went to work for Magnatone, where his design was given the "Mark" designation and, of course, a "Magnatone" logo. The single-pickup model like mine was labeled the Mark VII and sold for $139.50. Also produced were a two-pickup model, the Mark VIII ($179.50), the Mark IX, a two-pickup model with a stereo output switch and jacks (199.50) and the Mark X, a premium stereo model sold for $350.
As my guitar has pot codes dating to February 1960, it was presumably built at Magnatone -- yet has no logo. I wonder how, with no logo, it found its way into the hands of its first owner. Was it sold under the table? Given away? Swiped? Who knows? When I bought it in '71 from a friend for $50, it had already seen a few owners. So that remains a mystery.
Why is it my favorite guitar? Firstly because it's my first electric guitar, and secondly because of its historic significance, of which I was totally unaware until a few years ago. I had loaned it to a friend, whose kids manhandled it, knocking the knobs off, messing the switch up and -- worst -- spray-painting it shit brown.
When I reclaimed it in 1992, I brought it for repairs to a guitar tech who immediately offered me $500 for it, which tipped me off that I didn't know what I had. I kept it, of course, and did a little research and soon discovered its story. After having the switch repaired I took it home, removed the neck and stripped the paint off, doubtless also removing the original sunburst finish, but I was pleased with the natural look of the front and back sides (made of birch, like the center slab to which they're glued). Luckily, the pickguard (made of fiberglass and stamped "Fibco Plastics" of Gardena) came through unscathed. I then found some knobs that are almost correct. Finally, as the bridge cover had vanished long ago, I had one fabricated from a piece of "weathered" stainless steel. After all that I discovered that the guitar fit almost perfectly in a Fender tweed case.
How does it play and sound? Fabulous on both counts. I had it set up nicely. It has low action and plays straight and true. The tone is reminiscent of a Ric (no surprise), though my single-pickup model could use a bit more high end. (Identical Magnatone Mark VIIIs have an added bridge pickup). The switch adds a bit more treble, but ultimately a small adjustment on my amp does the trick. And Barth's innovative zero fret evens out the tone nicely. Though I have a few guitars, this one, my Barth shop guitar, is the one I pick up the most, and I'm happy to share its story with my guitar-playing colleagues.
The oversized pickguard helps camouflage the Capri design Barth took with him when he left Rickenbacker.
The neck is attached with two screws in the back, one inside. The screw plate in back bears the serial number -- 0285
Without the pickguard, the resemblance to a Ric Capri is obvious.
The electronics consist of a pot, tone control and a capacitor to boost the treble.
A mechanic friend fabricated this bridge cover. Other Barth models have a larger cover similar to those on Kay guitars
This Barth, apparently made just before mine, bears the logo "Barth Natural Music Guild, Santa Ana Calif." If you see one of these, or any Barth guitar, it's worth adding to your stable.
John F. Crowley